Oregon Families Frustrated As Free PreK Program Delayed

The start of preschool was delayed for thousands of Oregon families as the Preschool Promise program was delayed because of staffing issues.

By Erika Hanson | Published

Teacher Shortage Forced PreK Teacher To Run Two Classrooms At Once

Many state lawmakers and even the Biden Administration have been pushing for universal preschool. Just like public schools it would fund programs with tax dollars to make early childhood education free for all. However, snags like the one currently happening in Oregon’s program serve as examples of why some are skeptical about these endeavors.

According to a report from Oregon Live, thousands of families in the Beaver State are being left in the dark, as their preschool-aged children were unable to start a new school year. The issue is affecting impoverished families that qualified for the state’s Preschool Promise program. It provides families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line with free PreK access. 

So what’s at the heart of the issues leaving so many preschool children out of the classroom? Like all across the nation, staffing issues and teacher shortages are affecting the start date of the program. Allegedly, the Early Learning Division – which oversees staffing – has still not sent contracts to the majority of the 248 statewide preschools that participate in the free program.

While educators are leaving the industry left and right, the issues seem more complex in Oregon. On the surface, the massive teacher shortage looks to be to blame. However, the Preschool promise program enrolled around 6,300 children this year, which is about 2,000 more enrollees than last year.

Frustrated parents have been calling into their local preschool providers looking for answers. Worst of all, the state program has given little insight into the issue. While they promised to work swiftly to remediate the problem, they haven’t provided families with any dates as to when they can expect to be able to send their children to school.

These issues are escalating and causing more problems for families left confused and upset. What’s more, it means that many of them now have to come up with alternative childcare plans in the interim. Some parents are further upset as this late in the year, alternative preschools are now mostly full.

Melissa Laurie, a Portland mom, applied for her daughter to participate in Preschool Promise last March. Her 3-year-old was set to attend a year-round, full-day school that was nearby her home. As she was told her daughter would not be able to start attending the school this fall, she was outraged as she had already given up other slots with private providers. 

Furthermore, the problems with Preschool Promise are only furthering notions opposing universal preK programs. Critics of free early childhood education argue that the initiative is far too costly to successfully pull off. Because of this, they fear that the quality of learning would suffer, having long-lasting effects on students.

Extensive research finds that low-quality preschool can have negative effects on children. In fact, it has proven to be worse for young students than having no preschool at all. On the other hand, high-quality preschool has proven especially beneficial to low-income families. 


It remains unclear just how long thousands of families will be left without a preschool program this year throughout the state. For now, families must make do either missing work, or finding emergency alternatives. Making the situation far worse, for now, it looks like programs that have been unable to launch completely face having to extend their school year, with every day now counting.